In Loco Parentis: Should teachers be parents too?




“Should I worry about what my pupils eat for lunch? What about the thin girl whose packed lunch I routinely find uneaten at the bottom of my waste bin? What about the boy I know spends his money on cigarettes? Or the girl who only ever eats chips and mars bars?

Which of these cases are my concern and which are a matter for their parents? Increasingly, teachers are being asked to step into the parent role”

TES Friday March 21 2003 p25


Teachers are often described as being ‘in Loco Parentis’ but what does this mean? It literally translates as in place of the parent. I would like to use this enquiry to investigate what this means to me as classroom teacher, tutor and Head of Year, the responsibilities this carries and whether teachers should in fact take on the role of parent for any part of the school day. I am also curious to investigate the views of students towards teachers as taking some parental role in their education. There is no traditional method of enquiry which will allow me to investigate this fully and I will therefore invent my own method as I move through the enquiry. This methodological inventiveness has been recognised by Dadds and Hart(2001) and they have recognised that :


“for some practitioner researchers, creating their own unique way through their research may be as important as their self-chosen research focus…what researchers chose to research was important to their sense of engagement and purpose. But we had understood fairly well that how practitioners chose to research, and their sense of control over this, could be equally important to their motivation, their sense of identity within the research and their research outcomes”

Dadds and Hart p.166,2001


I hope that this methodological inventiveness as well as the content of the enquiry itself will allow other teachers to consider their own role in developing the ‘emotional intelligence’ (Goleman 1995) of themselves and their students through their own style of teaching or ‘parenting’.


Central to this enquiry is my belief that the role of the tutor is vital to the development of students, both academically and socially and my belief that as Head of Year I have a responsibility to ensure that my team of tutors are using their undoubted ‘emotional intelligence’ to help all students in their and ultimately my care to achieve their full potential both in terms of their exam results and their holistic growth as young people. These are my embodied values (Whitehead, 2003) the values that I hope are evident in everything that I do. Whitehead describes these as:


“the reasons for why I do things. I think of my values as embodied in what I do. They form the goals I set for myself in living a productive life. I often feel a desire to resolve a tension when I experience the denial of values such as freedom, care, compassion, justice and enquiry, and explain my actions in terms of my desire to live my values as fully as possible”

Whitehead, 2003, p.195


 I hope that by conducting this enquiry I can clarify for myself how I live these values and contribute to the knowledge-base of education by expressing, clarifying and communicating the value of Loco Parentis as a living standard of educational judgement. As Catherine Snow recognised in her presidential address to the American Educational Research Association:


“Good teachers possess a wealth of knowledge about teaching that cannot currently be drawn upon effectively in the preparation of novice teachers or in debates about practice. The challenge here is not to ignore or downplay this personal knowledge, but to elevate it. The knowledge resources of excellent teachers constitute a rich resource, but one that is largely untapped because we have no procedures for systemizing it.”


Snow p.9 2001   


As a direct result of the nature of the enquiry it will be largely based on my own ‘personal practical knowledge’ (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) defined as being:


‘in the teacher’s past experience, in the teacher’s present mind and body, and in the future plans and actions. Personal practical knowledge is found in the teacher’s practice. It is, for any teacher, a particular way of reconstructing the past and the intentions of the future to deal with the exigencies of the present situation.

Connelly and Clandinin,1988 p25


By researching how we behave as teachers and how this is perceived by students we can evaluate the role of teachers as parents and consider how best we can parent children or not to allow for their own development.


Langeveld(1965) writes:


Educational studies are a ‘practical science’ in the sense that we do not only want to know facts and to understand relations for the sake of knowledge, we want to know and understand in order to be able to act ’better’ than we did before.(p4)


This Educational Enquiry is therefore the ‘story that I live by’ (Connelly and Clandinin,1999).


I am currently a Head of Year 8 in a proudly comprehensive Secondary school where a large number of the students that I come into daily contact with do not have a traditional parenting experience. Within my own year group, 7/225 students live with adults other than their parents and 32/225 live with only one of their biological parents. This has an obvious impact on the role of my tutors in providing more than the adult who marks the register and chases absences but emotional and social support. Oliver James has considered the role of parents in the success of students. He states that:


“A large proportion of pupils have separated or divorced parents, and this has a huge impact on your (the tutors) daily life because of it’s effect on children’s behaviour…crudely put and on average it makes children less good learners and harder to control”

Oliver James, 2002


Plato said

“All learning has an emotional base”


I am certain that students have to engage in a relationship that breeds emotion in order to learn. Through this enquiry I would like to establish the level to which this emotional relationship can be likened to that between parent and child and whether the quality of this relationship has a direct impact on the academic achievement of students.


I feel that the importance of teachers doing more than teaching to provide exam results or subject knowledge has increasing significance as it is widely accepted that:


‘the group of children who present schools with special challenges are those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It is also noted that the number of children falling within this group is increasing.’

Bennathan and Boxall 1998


These students are the adults of the future and if they have not been supported in their emotional development by their parents or their teachers then they have little chance of passing on their emotional skills to their own children.


My own experience of parenthood is very positive.  I have a strong, loving, relationship with my mother and father.  This has, I am sure, impacted on my drive to become a teacher and pastoral carer – to pass on more than subject knowledge and be involved in the holistic education of students, contributing to their moral education and helping them to become responsible citizens by providing a happy and safe environment in which they can learn.


Initially as a tutor and more recently as a Head of Year I have been able to make a greater contribution towards this aspect of education.


In my previous school, there were no tutors, just form teachers who took the register twice a day and passed on important messages.  They undoubtedly contributed “towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community”, as set out in Pamphlet No. 1 of the Ministry of Education 1945 and Education Act of 1944, but this was haphazard and in no way structured or monitored.


As a newly qualified teacher this made little sense to me.  I had been constantly reminded throughout my teaching practice that relationships between students and teachers were vital if students were to achieve success, yet little opportunity was being created to establish these relationships. When adults are asked who their favourite teacher was at school, it is rarely a teacher that they did not have a positive relationship with.



Research conducted by Margaret Olszewski a Fourth Grade Teacher at Raymond Marquith Elementary School in Illinois in the USA claimed that:


“most parents indicated that during their childhood, they liked teachers who made them feel special. They felt teachers who related to them and showed interest in them as individuals were most remembered. The subject area taught was not the reason for their choice of favourite teacher, but rather their choices were influenced by their personal relationships with the teacher”


 In a review conversation with the Head Teacher at the end of my first year of teaching I raised these concerns and was challenged by him to do something about it.  I began my second year of teaching as the only Head of Year in the school, responsible for implementing changes that had taken place in many schools in the mid 1990’s. ¹


Gradually, with a lot of enthusiastic encouragement the role was changed and Form teachers encouraged to become Tutors, to have a wider responsibility for the students in their care.  This is described by Marland as the transformation between ‘tutor subordinate’ or ‘tutor neutral’ and ‘tutor ascendant’. This is described as the form teacher engaging in an ‘emotional’ relationship with the students, getting to know them and their ‘ baggage’ in order to help them to achieve their full potential academically. This relationship was clearly dependent on the values and attitudes of both parties.


This change was beneficial to both students and staff. Improved relationships encouraged greater success as students were valued as people. This academic success in turn improved relationships – a positive cycle of emotionally informed success had been established. In a paper written by Caroline Lodge from the University of London she describes the views of one tutor:


“The relationship allows the tutor to support the young people’s social and educational development. I enjoy the everyday involvement with pupils, listening to their interaction and hearing about what they have done. It’s good to be part of all of that and to think that you might have made a difference in some way”


This increased emphasis on the pastoral development of students had been recognised in the Active Tutorial Work (ATW) project, published in 1985, which recognised:


“the manifest need to equip young people with those personal and social skills, which are the foundation of self esteem and personal health”.

Bolam and Medlock 1985


Further work then led to the introduction and development of a tutor led personal education programme and also the recognition that through their contact and relationships with students, teachers were passing on more than their subject knowledge. They were through their own values and emotions teaching values and emotions which would allow students to formulate their own strategies and responses to real life experiences and situations.


The tutor role was now widely established and its value recognised. As in, many similar schools the need for schools to provide more than just knowledge being brought to the forefront.  This role however, described as a



 “core role in the secondary school”

Marland, NAPCE 2002


is rarely defined in any depth. It is difficult to write down what it means to be a good tutor and even harder to share good practice as most of the knowledge is ‘tacit’ and therefore not easily passed from one person to another. It relies completely on the values held by the individual. David Hargreaves explained the problems with the transfer of tacit knowledge during an INSET day at the John Bentley School in April 2003. The first problem is articulating the skills/emotions to be transferred. As Goleman (1998) accepts ‘emotional intelligence’ is not easily put into words.  The second problem is the ‘receptibility’ of the recipient – some teachers are not open to suggestions as to how they can become betters teachers/tutors and may not in fact see the benefit of forming emotional relationships with their students.  The knowledge, therefore is ‘sticky’ and does not easily transfer between people.


It is clear, however, that some people are very skilled tutors and through their dedication to the holistic education of students, improve their life chances and perhaps even their levels of achievement.


From my current position of Head of Year, .I am therefore faced with numerous questions related to the role of the tutor


How do tutors influence students?


How can I as ahead of Year influence tutors to influence students?


How involved should I become as a tutor?


What is the relationship between all of these roles and the teachers’ responsibility to be in ‘Loco Parentis’?




As far as my own role is concerned I have recently had cause to become closely involved with a student as a result of particular circumstances.  He was placed ‘in care’ at the end of August 2002 and so returned to school in September from a foster home.


Sam has SpLD and has required a lot of support school since he joined in September 2001, but my relationship with him had been relatively distant.  From September 2002 however, I adopted the role of 1:1 tutor and as the relationship developed, I realised I was becoming to an extent his ‘parent’.  He would ‘check-in’ with me each morning when I would check that he was equipped for the day, often providing necessities for the day and sometimes breakfast as well as an emotional start.  Sam would then ‘visit’ several times a day for support of one sort or another.  In addition, we would spend one or two hours a week talking about whatever Sam wanted – often his home/family situation.  At times it was difficult to maintain the emotional distance required as my ‘maternal’ instincts drew me to protect him.  I soon realised, however, that protection was non productive as Sam was using this to get himself out of awkward situations ‘Mrs Percy said that I could…’.  Having adjusted my tutoring style to suit, I began to analyse the relationship and the impact that this was having.  Sam was, at school, ‘happy’ – he told me this at most of our sessions – he said that this was because


“you look after me and smile at me”


 I hadn’t realised that something so simple could make such a difference! Looking into this further however confirmed my own belief that passion is vital and the way that this is expressed crucial to allow students to achieve their best.

According to Dr Emanuel Donchin at the University of Illinois, ninety-nine per cent of what children learn at school is not what we think we are teaching but what they pick up through the way we dress, the way we look, the way we say things, the environment, the hidden agendas, the relationships we have. In smiling and conveying my emotions to Sam I am expressing what he wants to be and what I want him to be. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:


                  “Be the change you want to see in the world”


Research has found that the muscles around your mouth do react, albeit imperceptibly, when someone smiles at us. In other words by smiling at someone you are encouraging them to smile and feel the positive effects of the emotions that are related.


This ‘happiness’ appeared to be translating to a calmer approach towards school and a more positive level of achievement.  It also coincided with a change in Sam’s care arrangements, where he had bee moved to a longer-term foster placement with a foster carer described to me by Sam’s Social Worker as a ‘mother’ figure.


These conversations with Sam led me to investigate the role of the tutor in ‘parenting’ students and my role as Head of Year in influencing tutor, influencing students. It had been recognised in research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships in collaboration with the Center for Research Education of students placed at Risk in the USA that:


‘student performance in reading and mathematics achievement increased when parents and families were directly involved with their students…. A variety of parent involvement options all seemed to contribute to learning gains’

Johns Hopkins Center, 1999


So does the way that teachers act as parents in supporting students, particularly those described by Bennathan and Boxall (1988) as providing ‘special challenges’ influence their achievement?



I began by targeting one tutor group and conducting a questionnaire asking them to consider the role of the tutor. The tutor group selected had experienced a number of tutors during their first year and a half of secondary school and were very clear about their expectations of a tutor. When asked what the job involved, their answers all reflected the following

Š      to look after the group

Š      take the register

Š      lead PSHE and

Š      be a trusted friend.


When asked the same question but for a Head of Year, the answers were the same but on a larger scale the main theme being the role of ‘looking after’.  When asked if the role of the tutor was completed successfully, the majority answered positively, although expressed a wish for their tutor to be stricter.  As a Head of Year, they respected my ‘strict’ boundaries and wish to provide them with a ‘safe’ environment. Comments made included:


“keeps us in a safe environment and teaches us about life”


“checks how we are doing and strict when she needs to be”.


All students were appreciative of consistency.  During the previous year they had a number of tutors and felt that this was ‘not very good’.


The students felt that both their tutor and Head of Year had an influence on their school day, their school work and their attitude towards school. Their school day and their attitude towards school being more influenced than their work.


The findings of this questionnaire led me to interview a Year 12 class, in more depth, about what makes a good tutor. I chose to question older students as they would be more able to identify and separate the level of influence of various contributors to their academic and social development. I began the discussion by asking general questions about what made a good teacher.  The following characteristics were identified by the group:


“enthusiastic, confident, respectful, a sense of humour, friendly, a variety of teaching methods, flexible boundaries between fun and work and most importantly they have to like children”

They felt that the relationship was vital and all of these characteristics were more important for a tutor. I was interested that subject knowledge or ability to pass this on was not even mentioned and when I asked the students they all agreed that this was not a priority. When there was a positive atmosphere within the classroom and a positive relationship between the student and teacher, the subject or topic that was being taught was irrelevant.  The group felt that the relationship above all else had to be trusting and as far as a tutor was concerned like a parent as their main responsibility was to help with social issues and solve social problems within school.


The role of a classroom teacher was to inspire and help with exam results but not to interfere or even take an interest in the social interactions of school. A tutor on the other hand was there to act as a friend and at some times students felt that they would even discuss more sensitive and personal things with their tutor than they would with their parents. This was not the case with subject teachers as there was rarely the time within the teaching situation to discuss personal or even social relationships or issues. The year 12 students were keen to mention here that the relationship with the tutor was not like the relationship that they had with any other teacher or person that they had a relationship with in school. Even the relationship with the school counsellor was not the same as this was superficial as consultations were regarding a single issue and the counsellor often had no knowledge of the student apart from the issue that they were discussing.


As a result of this discussion with my Year 12 students I decided that I needed to investigate in more depth the differences between the relationships with teachers and tutors. I decided that a 1:1 discussion with a student would provide a different perspective and wondered whether the opinions and views expressed by the group of Year 12 students was representative of those held by all students. I interviewed one of my Year 10 students called John. He agreed that I could quote him and he felt that his opinions and views were probably representative of his peers.


John felt that the relationship between tutor and student was closer than between teacher and student because of the amount of quality time spent together. The teacher relationship was at times difficult because time spent with the teacher was focussed solely on subject knowledge and did not allow for time to build up a mutual understanding and respect. With a tutor there was time to establish this relationship and as the student stayed with the tutor for several years the relationship became established.

John felt however that the relationship had to be balanced and there needed to be a set of established and respected rules that were stuck to by the student and enforced by the tutor. There needed to be a certain amount of humour and freedom but this had to be balanced with a certain amount of control. Much to use John’s words:


“to act as a parent in school. Keeping a close eye on us. Taking the time to understand us and talk to us about our problems”


John felt that it was important for parents to know that there children were being looked after fully in school and that tutors were seen as holding this position of responsibility being in ‘Loco Parentis’. He was keen to stress however that this role of tutor was carried out differently by different people but each of the various styles of tutoring had positive influences on the students.


This led me to investigate the various styles of parenting. According to Baumrind(1971,1989), and Maccoby and Martin(1983), parenting styles consist of two dimensions. Demandingness refers to the extent to which parents show control, maturity demands and supervision in their parenting; responsiveness refers to the extent to which parents show affective warmth, acceptance and involvement. Based on these two dimensions a four-fold classification of parenting styles has been described(Maccoby and Martin, 1983;Baumrind, 1991). Authoritative parents are both demanding and responsive. This means that they are controlling but not restrictive. Authoritarian parents are demanding but not responsive. This means that they have a low level of trust in their children and a high level of psychological control. Permissive parents are responsive but not demanding. They have a warm and child centred attitude towards their children but often do not require mature behaviour from their children and there is often a lack of parental control. Neglectful parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They are generally uninvolved in the raising of their children. All of these parenting styles can be recognised in tutors and perhaps reflect their levels of success in encouraging and nurturing success in their students. These various parenting styles have been linked to various levels of academic success in terms of their impact upon children. Authoritative parents have generally been found to have the greatest levels of success in terms of their performance in school, engagement in lessons and attitude towards school (Aunola, Stattin and Nurmi, 2000).



 The results of their study suggested that:


“parenting styles play an important role in the development of adolescents’ achievement strategies”


The role of the tutor is therefore vital as the way in which a student is tutored or parented whilst in school could have a direct influence on their levels of academic achievement.


When considering this in relation to my own investigation it is clear to me that students expect ‘good’ tutors to be ‘good’ authoritative parents. They should provide balanced levels of demand and response, high levels of support and the expectation of high levels of achievement and behaviour. It has also become clear to me that at times we get this wrong and veer towards the other parenting styles that have been proven not to support students in achieving their best. During some of my contact with Sam I am sure that I have been too permissive. I have allowed him too much autonomy and this has often led to Sam taking advantage and expecting to get away with things. This has led me to adjust the way that I work and to realise that it does not pay to be permissive and that the old adage of firm but fair really is the most productive both in terms of the relationship between student and teacher but also in terms of the long term achievement and establishment of life skills of the student.



In conclusion therefore I have become assured by this enquiry that the role of tutor remains vital in the holistic development of students and that there are lessons that can be learnt from parenting that can allow the relationships between tutor and student to be more productive in terms of he development of the individual and also in allowing the student to use the emotional strength generated by this relationship to achieve greater success in their academic life at school. When talking to the parent of one of my students recently she exclaimed that we probably knew her daughter better than she did as she appeared from her bedroom to leave for school in the morning and disappeared into her bedroom when she returned from school in the afternoon. We saw more of her than her parents and probably had more conversations with her in the course of a day than her parents did in a week. We therefore have a responsibility to these students to act in Loco Parentis and provide the support that they may receive at home but if not to go some way in providing the support that it has been proven allows students to achieve more than they ever thought possible.




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